Ethan stepping into new role as NRG’s in-game leader

by Brian Bencomo

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- NRG’s VALORANT team got off to a strong start in their opening match at the VCT Americas Kickoff tournament. NRG beat FURIA 2-0 on Friday to move forward into the winner’s match in Group A.

The match also was a strong debut for Ethan “Ethan” Arnold, who joined the team in the offseason after winning VALORANT Champions with Evil Geniuses. He had a team-high 37 kills, 23 assists, 13 more kills than deaths and an overall K/D/A scoreline of 37/24/23. Oh, and he was making his debut as in-game leader too.

Read more: VCT Americas Kickoff 2024: Schedule, format, teams and storylines

“Going on IGL for the first time, they all have to get used to me as an IGL and I have to get used to all of them. So it's not like it's definitely not an easy thing,” Ethan said after the match. “I think we showed promise today. I think we showed kind of like what we can play like, everyone's playing really well, and it's still close. So it's not really like we're content with today's result, even though it's a 2-0, there were a lot of rounds that were not very good, in our opinion. So definitely a lot of stuff to clean up.”

Ethan has some big shoes to fill, as he’s taking over the role that Pujan “FNS” Mehta had last year with NRG. The veteran FNS has been calling the shots for the core on this NRG team alongside Austin “crashies” Roberts and Victor “Victor” Wong with OpTic in 2022 and including Jimmy “Marved” Nguyen when the four played together with Envy in 2021.

Ethan said that veteran core has made his transition to the IGL role easier.

Ethan, right, credits crashies, left, and the rest of the veterans on the team for making it an easy transition for him. Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

“I've always watched the OpTic core, you know, I played against them a bunch, and them being like the top team for a while, both on Envy, OpTic, NRG those two and three players with crashies, Vic and Marved. Since their the top teams, you always watch them right? We always try to learn from them,” he said.

“So makes it easy for me both as an individual player but as an IGL,” he continued. “It was definitely helpful that they, you know, they’re seasoned, right? They’ve played for a really long time, so they're easy to work with.”

Ethan knew that he would be taking over the IGL role when he first started talking to NRG. It’s a new role that the 23-year-old has embraced after a seven-year pro career including his days playing Counter-Strike.

Read more: VCT Americas debut finally near for G2, former Guard players

“This is definitely a good point in my career for me to do it,” he said. “Having just won [Champions], I played with just countless number of IGLs in my career both in CS and in VALORANT, so I learned a lot from a lot of really good ones too.”

He named FNS as well as Damian "daps" Steele, James "hazed" Cobb, Nicholas "nitr0" Cannella and Kelden "Boostio" Pupello as IGLs he has played with whom he has learned a lot from.

“Boostio just recently had a different mind for the game,” Ethan said about his IGL with Evil Geniuses. “That was really new to me, so that kind of it's really good for me. I got a lot of different styles; I have the very generic Counter-Strike IGL thinking that's very good for some things, and then I played with hazed in VALORANT, Boostio in VALORANT, Nitro in VALORANT … I've got a lot of slices of the pie that I've kind of been able to digest and, and kind of work in my own playstyle.”

Being on a superteam

Ethan is now calling the shots for a loaded NRG. Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

Not only is Ethan filling FNS’s big shoes, he’s stepping into a situation where NRG has been labeled the “superteam” of VCT Americas, so there are lofty expectations for this team. It’s a stark contrast to the situation he was in at the start of last year with Evil Geniuses.

“It's a complete 180 from last year because we were considered probably like the most underdog or underdog team of the whole season,” he said.

Evil Geniuses were a big Cinderella story last year as they rose from the bottom of everybody’s power rankings to reach the VCT Americas playoffs, qualify for Masters Tokyo and Champions and ultimately win Champions.

One of the key ingredients to their rise was the addition of Max “Demon1” Mazanov, who also joined NRG in the offseason. The two joined NRG together after it became clear Evil Geniuses’ financial difficulties meant the world championship players would be looking at pay cuts if they stayed with the organization.

“As soon as we heard the news, I reached out to NRG,” he said. “I told them, you know, me and Demon1 wanna join you guys, and they instantly took that and kind of ran with it and tried to get all the work done for that.”

Ethan, left, and Demon1, right, both came to NRG as world champions. Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

The move didn’t happen right away though, as EG infamously kept their players in so-called “contract jail,” and made any move off the team difficult. In fact, in an alternate timeline, it’s possible Ethan could have gone to 100 Thieves. He’s close with former EG assistant coach Tony “Zikz” Gray, who became 100 Thieves’ head coach in the offseason.

“I think that if NRG didn't work out, I think 100 Thieves would have been an option for me,” he said. “With him as the coach, he kind of let me know that he knew I was going for the NRG spot, but if things didn't work out, we'd love to have you.”

Read more: Zikz bringing unique perspective, championship experience to 100 Thieves

Eventually though, NRG was able to strike a deal to acquire Ethan and Demon1, and announced the two players a couple days before Christmas.

They joined crashies and Victor, who are holdovers from last year’s NRG team, and Marved who also joined NRG in the offseason. Crashies, Victor and Marved all won Masters Reykjavík 2022 with OpTic and finished second at Masters Berlin 2021 with Envy and Champions 2022 with OpTic.

When you put that OpTic championship trio together with the EG championship duo, it’s no wonder there are high expectations for this team.

Evaluating the competition

Marved, left, is also rejoining the championship core of crashies and Victor. Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

With a win over FURIA to start VCT Americas Kickoff, NRG will face Cloud9 next in the Group A winner’s match. With Cloud9 not yet playing during our postgame conversation, Ethan was eager to see how the new-look C9 roster would play.

“I think C9, both their playstyle, their players and their comps are maybe a little more up in the air,” he said. “We can already see them playing multiple different comps both from the Ludwig tournament they played in they kind of played some weird comps, so we'll see.”

At some point, Ethan will face off against his former team, and that’s a matchup he’s looking forward to.

“We scrimmed them a bit, and I think they'll be good,” he said. “I think [jawgemo] will always be very good at what he does, and I think the rest of the players are pretty good at supporting that kind of player, and I think they look pretty cohesive right now, So they'll be fun to play.”

Read more: Potter will try to overcome the odds with Evil Geniuses, again

Despite being the superteam of the league, Ethan isn’t taking any team for granted. Coming from EG last year, he knows better than most, that you can’t take any team in the league lightly.

“Every game is tough in our eyes,” he said. “So even though we're kind of rated as the top team, we kind of play to respect everybody. So no game -- I don't think any game will be easy.”

We’ll see whether it’s the favorite or the underdog who wins Group A when NRG face Cloud9 on Friday at 2 p.m. PT.

Lead photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

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